Fast chargers open Napier-Taupo highway to EVs

Unison fast charger Napier Taupo highway

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The Thermal Explorer Highway between Napier and Taupo is a key transport link between Central North Island and Hawke’s Bay. Almost 3,000 vehicles travel the road each day – more than a million a year.

Unison owns and operates the network distributing electricity to Hawke’s Bay, Taupo and Rotorua. It received co-funding to install two DC 50 kW fast-charging stations on the highway to encourage EV uptake in the region and to remove an inter-region barrier to EVs.

The project filled a gap in the charging infrastructure network, contributing to the Government’s vision of a fast/rapid DC charging station every 75kms across state highways.

The chargers, located at the Rangitaiki Lodge and on the corner of SH5 and McVicar Road at Te Haroto, were opened in June 2017. Unison later added a public WiFi service at the Rangitaiki site for the benefit of local businesses and customers. 

The chargers were used more than 600 times in the first 18 months, delivering more than 5,100 kWh of electricity and enabling more than 30,000km of travel. The usage is lower compared to in-town Unison EV stations, but it proves their designated ‘inter-region’ and quick ‘top-up’ role. Unison believes they ease the concerns of potential and current EV-owners who are unsure how or where to re-charge their EVs on long distance trips.

The project was approved for $119,000 of co-funding from round one of the Low Emission Vehicles Contestable Fund.

 Public feedback

Unison has received positive feedback from local residents and other travellers by phone, e-mail, and comments on the PlugShare app and social media.

Many users have commented positively on the payment system, as it integrates ChargeNet and Unison accounts on the same smart fob used to pay for charging.   

The café near the Rangitaiki site has experienced a boom in visitors who spend more time there.

 Insights from this project

  • The project provided an opportunity to investigate how to reduce installation costs. Unison used this experience in its next EV project at Putorino. It also passed on learnings to others with similarly challenging infrastructure establishment projects, such as Unison’s neighbouring lines companies (Eastland and Horizon) and others throughout NZ – in particular for similar remote-rural installations along the Pacific Coast Highway.
  • Alleviating range anxiety and opening up additional inter-region routes can add to confidence not only for EV drivers, but also for investors who are now actively looking for advice on how to support further EV infrastructure in the region and successfully introduce EV-related services to their businesses.
  • Good visibility of infrastructure for the public is a key factor for remote locations. The two chargers are highly visible to all passing traffic, with distinctive NZ Transport Agency and Unison signage.  
  • Choose locations carefully and seek input from local communities. The proposed location of Unison’s Rangitaiki charger was changed after local business owners raised safety concerns. A serious crash at the proposed location has since shown the value of this advice.      


Find out more

Electrifying the Thermal Explorer Highway - Unison media release

Chargers for electric vehicles to be installed on Napier-Taupo Road - Stuff website